Most of what I have posted so far has been about me and my struggle to come to terms with becoming a father, I have touched on the lack of support that there is for Dads, when I say touched I mean ranted about. Ive talked about how there is no-one to talk to when they are struggling and how we are just expected to ‘man up’ and because of this I was initially very envious of the quantity of people that my partner had to talk to and the circle around her.
Within a month of our baby being born, two of her best friends and her sister also went into labour, add this to the dozen Mums that she has forged relationships with at the antenatal classes and this equals a lot of new borns in our life, which was stressful, but bought plenty of Mothers going through the same things at similar times into close contact. We always felt this was a massive advantage to us and it helped me relax initially going back to work as I knew she had plenty of people to turn to for either physical help or just some moral support.
But as time passed I started to wonder whether this was a help or a hindrance.
Let me explain.
In the nine weeks that our boy has been in the world, I think my partner has done a fantastic job and already we are seeing a good sleeping routine and he is healthy. More importantly the smiles on our little ones face suggest he is happy and surely that is the most important thing?
In the main, my partner was and is confident in her own abilities as a first time mum and congratulates herself that we are doing ok, but, and maybe this is to be partly expected, every so often will really beat herself up and start to question everything she does, gets very emotional and feels guilty that she is failing him. I am sure some of you are thinking that this is nothing unusual and that all mothers will go through these feelings but the reason I mention it is that I noticed a pattern forming around these episodes which surprised me.
These self doubting minor breakdowns always happened after she has spent a fair amount of time with other new mums and it dawned on me that this support network can very easily be just as destructive as it is supportive if not handled in the right way.
Let me give you an example. One Saturday, after the baby’s 4th week with us, my partner spent the day with the two closest friends that I mentioned and came home distraught, questioning everything she had so far put in our child’s care. Through her sobs she explained that both the other babies were sleeping through the night and that the time they spent with her they hadn’t cried, they were feeding regular etc. etc. She was slowly picking at every technique we had agreed and used to parent our child and was ready to ditch everything and start along a different route entirely.
Not long after this she had an antenatal reunion and the same thing happened, this time she almost went from breast to bottle as the bottle fed babies seemed to be sleeping for so much longer! I got her to agree we would give it a bit longer but it was hard to encourage her not to give in.
By this point I was also starting to think we were doing something terrible or there was something wrong with our baby, had we been sold a dud? Why was ours so much different to theirs? Was I being punished for not wanting kids in the first place?
All of the Mums that I am discussing are all lucky enough to have their husbands or partners with them for support and although us Dads haven’t been as close because of work etc, we do occasionally through social media and text messages as we are all planning to meet up soon to discuss our own experiences, although after my partners conversations I was beginning to wonder if it was a good idea.
However, as the saying goes, there are two sides to every story.
I started to notice late night statuses on Facebook and my personal Twitter account about these very same Dads having a tough time, sleepless nights, constant crying and all the same issues that we were having, did these dads have different babies to their wives?
After seeing this it got me thinking and I questioned my partner as to what stories she was telling the mums when they were painting their idyllic, text book, offspring and she said admitted that she had played down the troubles that we had had as she felt inferior to the their mothering skills.
She was due to meet again with her two closest friends and I suggested to her that she was completely open about our issues before they had a chance to give her any more feedback of their perfect situation and see if this changed anything, if nothing else we could find out if they were doing anything differently and maybe try it for ourselves. Although she we nervous to admit our weaknesses to these Supermum’s she could see the sense in doing it and agreed to give it a go.
What a difference the outcome was! I wasn’t there to witness it but my partners account was of a complete opposite of previous meetings. They had all opened up about their own issues, they had all cried together, had all said they thought they were terrible Mums! But the biggest difference was that my partner was smiling! By opening up they had all dropped the facade that everything was rosy and by seeing that she was feeling the same as the others had given her a new confidence that what we were going through was completely normal and had a very therapeutic reaction. She had even been giving advice to them by the end of it!
It certainly has made us realise that it’s not the quantity of the support but most definitely the quality. You can surround yourself with as many new Mum’s as you like but it needs to be people that you trust to be honest with and in turn let them know that they can be just as honest back. In our situation this would only be with the friends and family. From this she has learnt not to compare herself to the Mums from the antenatal classes, after all, they have only been in our lives for a matter of months and we could never tell their characters that quickly. They may be crying at home every night and not feel that they can mention this to people they barely know.
Mums, just remember, no matter how bad it is going, someone else IS going through the same and if they say they are not look them deep in the eyes and ask again. Maybe the bags around the eyes are a truer indicator of what they are going through than what the words are saying, they just may not feel they can admit it.